Historic Visitors Help Connect to Today’s Visitors

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Modern visitors encounter historic visitors in Annapolis, Maryland, a clever way to connect people to the past.  In their visitor center on the waterfront, the Historic Annapolis Foundation installed a wall of life-size images of famous and popular celebrities who have visited Annapolis during the past two hundred years.  The main label reads:

Who are these people, and why are they here?

You may recognize a few of them, or perhaps all of them.

Each of these people is famous for one reason or another, and each spent time in Annapolis.  Some were here in the recent past, while others many years ago.  Some passed through the city on a whirlwind tour, and some called Annapolis home.

But what does George Washington have in common with Sarah Jessica Parker?  The Marquis de Lafayette with Mark Twain?  Amelia Earhart with Michelle Obama?

Their common bond is that each of them could return to Annapolis today and recognize downtown because of Historic Annapolis.  Thanks to historic preservation, Annapolitans have protected their city’s historic buildings, streets, vistas, and character, and continue this effort today. Thus, each of our famous people could return and recognize places and sights from their original Annapolis experience, whether their visit was in the 21st century or the 18th.

As you explore Annapolis, described by many as a “museum without walls,” remember that you may be following in the footsteps of an astronaut or an aviatrix, a First Lady or a Founding Father, a French nobleman or an English queen.

The pamphlets below will guide you on the paths of these and other notable people who visited Annapolis.  Where will you go today?

Individual rackcards explain the person’s connection to Annapolis, highlight places and audio stops associated with him or her, and provide a map with local landmarks.  Visitors can choose from a wide range of personalities, including George Washington, Queen Elizabeth, Clara Barton, Michelle Obama, and Charles Bolden.  Some of the cards have small ads on the bottom on the back side, which is a nice way to generate revenue and promote a local business.

What a great way to help modern visitors cross paths with historic people–same place, different times.  I really like the how the Historic Annapolis’ mission and accomplishments are woven into the text, something I wish more organizations would do in their exhibits.  The staff said it’s been a popular exhibit, although if they were to do it again, they’d enlarge the numbers in the audiostops for legibility (they’re about 8 point and probably should be around 12 point).  If there’s anything I’d change, it’s that the label moves back and forth between two different topics–historic preservation and historic celebrities–and perhaps instead should start with one and close with the other.  For example, it could open with, “Who are these people and why are they here?  They’ve all visited Annapolis and if they returned today, they’d still recognize it.  Historic Annapolis has worked with local residents and businesses to protect and preserve our city’s…”  The transition might be, “Today you can enjoy the very same places as George Washington, Michelle Obama, Mark Twain, and Amelia Earhart, and imagine following in their footsteps.  You’ll walk the same streets, see the same buildings, and perhaps even hear…”, discuss a couple historic visitors, and close by inviting the reader to pick up a rackcard to learn more.  Nevertheless, this simple exhibit lays out two important goals for most historic site interpretation:

  • a relevant and engaging connection between the community’s past and today’s visitor
  • an explanation of the purpose of the organization, why it’s important and deserves your support. 

And now for something completely different:  The most popular individuals, judging from the empty slots in the rack, aren’t people but a goat and a cat.  Hmm, I wonder if people relate better to animals than people–should we incorporate the interpretation of pets in historic house tours?